Sucker Fish Information

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Although suckers (Catostomidae family) resemble giant minnows, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission notes that they are indeed a distinct family of fish. The suckers display a bottom-feeding behavior, using their adaptations to carve out their own niche in their ecosystems. Suckers can grow quite large on its varied diet.


The "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes" says that of the 73 species of sucker that occur around the world, 63 of them live in the United States and Canada. The suckers include fish identified by name as suckers, like the white sucker and northern hog sucker. Other kinds of suckers are the quillbacks, also called carpsuckers, identified by the long rays on their dorsal fin. The redhorses are a group of suckers that have shades of orange, red or pink on their fins. Buffalo are large suckers known for their oversized heads.


Suckers are long, thick-bodied fish with smooth scales. Suckers do not have scales on their heads, but their body scales reflect sunlight in such a manner that the fish takes on a golden or silvery color. The fins of a sucker do not have the sharp spines that many other kinds of fish feature. The most outstanding characteristic of a sucker is its mouth, which points downward and contains no teeth. The fleshy-lipped mouth allows the sucker to feed off the bottom effortlessly as it swims along, sending food down its throat, where its teeth are.


Some suckers can grow 3 feet long, such as the blue sucker, river redhorse and smallmouth buffalo. Others grow to be 2 feet in length, such as the northern hog sucker and white sucker. The creek chubsucker is one of the smaller suckers, with maximum lengths of about 11 inches. Suckers like the smallmouth buffalo can weigh as much as 51 lbs., but most are much smaller, with species like the northern hog sucker rarely more than 4 lbs.


While most suckers live in rivers, creeks and streams, some types thrive in lakes and large ponds. Those that live in flowing waterways may stage huge migrations upriver to spawn, with some able to arrive at their previous spawning areas. Suckers live across most of North America. The white sucker, for instance, ranges from New England south to Virginia and westward to the Rocky Mountains, also inhabiting much of Canada. Suckers, depending on the species, can live in water that is warm or cold, fast or slow, muddy or clear, and tainted by pollution and/or low oxygen levels.


Suckers subsist on things such as algae and the dead particles that filter into the water from decaying creatures. Suckers will eat small plants they discover on the bottom as well as live animals like freshwater clams, crayfish, tiny fish, snails and water insects. The small developing suckers dine on algae and zooplankton until they are large enough to pursue their adult diets. Suckers will dislodge rocks and debris on the bottom, looking for anything to eat. Once they detect something, they suck it into their mouths.

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